Stryker Schools Asking Voters To Renew Millage; Keep Programs Alive

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Stryker school district voters will be asked to approve a millage renewal May 2, and officials want to let people know why they need it.

The renewal is required to changes in school aid which has left the district short on funding to meet all its needs. The renewal won’t mean an increase in taxes as the millage required to meet the goal of $335,000 will actually be lower based on increased property values.

Despite what the ballot says, the school is not seeking the renewal for any emergency. Superintendent Nate Johnson said. There are financial issues to be sure, but nothing is in critical need, he said. “We are not asking for any additional,” Johnson said. “It’s still the dollar amount we are asking for, which is the same as when it first passed, five years ago.”

There is no overlapping of the levy. Each request is good for 5 years and the renewal will commence after the current millage.

The reasons given for the renewal include:

Special education costs have increased. By law, the local schools have to service the special education students.

Charter school foundation payments have increased between $15,000 and $27,000 per student.

“There are scholarships available for students with certain kinds of disabilities,” Johnson said, referring to the John Peterson, autism, and school choice scholarships . These are available for disabled students in a private or non-public charter school which serves them. The cost of the scholarship is taken from the district’s foundation payment, Johnson said.  “The taxpayers are now getting hit for these students that go to a private or a chartered non-public school,” Johnson said. “That’s right out of our pocket.”

The district does not know how the state budget will turn out. Early reports had local schools taking another hit, with Stryker losing an estimated $148,000.

“They may have given schools more money, but it’s not where they have taken it in the past,” Johnson said.

Other factors that can influence state aid include enrollment (factored on the average daily membership) , preschool, unfunded mandates. Charter school unfunded mandates also impact the budget.

There was a private school within 30 minutes transportation-wise of Stryker School that became a charter school, Johnson said. Once the state allowed  the school to become a chartered non-public, Stryker was forced to provide transportation for those students as well, he said. “That’s a cost to our local taxpayers for kids not attending our district,” Johnson said.

The 30-minute rule also applies for any school of choice students, Johnson said. The transportation edict will require the school to pay for a new vehicle and driver, he said.

Schools with students who are open-enrolled can charge back the cost of the student’s care to Stryker. Those costs will rise by $50,000 this year, he said.

Those costs also include students enrolled at some special facilities, as well. The request should not take anybody by surprise, Board President Ben Woolace said. Three years ago, the five-year forecast showed the district was going to need to go back for a renewal, he said. “It wasn’t as if this year we came up and said ‘we are in dire straits,’’ Woolace said. “We knew that this was coming.”

When the district first put the millage request on the ballot five years ago, the number of delinquent tax payers was “substantial,” Johnson said. Total payment of the delinquent taxes could have forestalled the levy, he said.

Now, with a better economy, the number of delinquents is still significant, just not to the same measure as before, Johnson said.

“At the time the district was owed $225,000 and we were asking $335, 000,” Johnson said. “It could have looked a lot different.”

Delinquents are still running at $100,000 behind. That puts a cloud over planning out the district’s finances. Couple that with the state budget uncertainty, and forecasting is a best guess situation.

The renewal is needed because the district is not in the mood for cutting any type of program, Woolace said.  The district is on a good roll and the last thing the board wants to do is make cuts which will affect the community and the students, he said. “That’s the furthest thing from our minds,” Woolace said. “We’d like it to stay that way.”

It took three times to get voter approval for the extra millage, so officials are a little concerned. In the previous attempts, the district cut staff after every rejection. That led to program cuts and lower enrollments as concerned parents pulled their kids out the district. “We don’t want to fall into that same scenario again,” Johnson said.

In the past five years following the original voter approval, the district has brought back Vo-Ag, industrial arts and home economics, Woolace said.

Students also got exposed to technology they otherwise would not have, Johnson said.

“Ultimately this levy is for the kids,” Woolace said.

This is the ballot question for voters in the May 2 election:

Shall a levy renewing an existing levy be imposed by the Stryker Local School District for the purpose of Providing for the Emergency Requirements of the School District in the sum of $335,000 and a levy of taxes to be made outside the ten-mill limitation estimated by the county auditor to average 4.6 mills for each one dollar of valuation, which amounts to $0.46 for each one hundred dollars of valuation, for a period of five years, commencing in 2017, first due in calendar year 2018?

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